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Transcending style

Beauty and meaning. These are the two attributes that new ADNZ awards judge Melanda Slemint will be looking for when she joins the panel to assess 100 of the best commercial and residential architectural designs in the country this week.

As a registered architect for more than 20 years, Melanda has collaborated on a wide range of urban and architectural projects in Christchurch, Wellington and the Netherlands. Since cutting her teeth on masterplans and housing blocks for Ijburg - a significant development of 18,000 homes on ten artificial islands in Amsterdam - Melanda has gained considerable experience and understanding of the role of architecture and its ability to contribute to society.

She recalls the words of former boss and mentor, Ian Athfield, who spoke about the responsibility of a building to be a good neighbour.

'In other words, designers look beyond an immediate site and consider effects on surroundings and neighbours both near and far. When I worked with Ath, he would always start a project with a contextual analysis, understanding at a scale, both small and large, how each site relates to its surroundings. Scale of nearby buildings, sun and wind, history, transportation links, streetscape etcetera. The idea being that to add meaning and richness to the eventual design, creates a building which contributes positively to its context.'

Melanda also references American architect Barbara Bestor, whose words have made an impression on her. Barbara Bestor promotes an ethos that everyone should experience 'strange beauty every day'.

'I love this notion', says Melanda, 'and I agree that we can and should start talking about ‘beauty' again in all its many guises.

'As for meaning, buildings affect people, and good ones are loved because they have meaning - via a connection to place or memory, and an appropriateness through scale, materiality and language, and therefore substance, that transcends style.'

Melanda says particularly in Christchurch, as new designs rise from the rubble, the effect of building design on people is highly apparent.

‘Here in Christchurch, we've lost much of our heritage fabric and most of our central city. Some new buildings are outstanding, but the rebuild is also drawing criticism for buildings being too bland, too glassy and too hard. Some buildings have no acknowledgement of memory or context, of what was around before, and therefore wouldn't be out of place anywhere else. There is concern globally, of a pandemic of generic buildings.

'As New Zealand grows, and our cities densify and change, I believe a big challenge will be around retaining their sense of identity.'

This week Melanda Slemint will join with fellow architectural practitioners and experts Michael Davis - Director of Architecture Programmes at the University of Auckland and former judge and past ADNZ Supreme Award winner - Graeme Boucher, to decide the best architectural designs in the country in the 2017 ADNZ | Resene Architectural Design Awards.

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